How much attention do you pay to keywords in your content?
For too many people, the answer is “none” or “nearly none.” While having engaging content that attracts human readers is vital, ignoring keywords is going to make it difficult for those human readers to find your content in the first place.
This bad advice to ignore keywords has made it so some marketers really don’t know how to use keywords effectively at all.
Today we’re talking to Julia McCoy, the CEO of Express Writers. She’s not only an amazing writer but also considered a thought leader in her industry. Today she’s going to talk to us about using keywords well when creating content.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- How Julia got into freelance writing, what made her start Express Writers, and what she does there.
- An overview of the content strategy at Express Writers.
- How Julia helps older content maintain a high ranking in the search engines.
- Why targeting low-competition keywords works.
- How Julia finds the keywords and what tools she uses.
- How Julie defines good content for Express Writers.
- Tips on weaving keywords into great content.
- Why long-form content is important when it comes to ranking.
- Where to focus first if you’re a content marketer just getting started with using keywords.
Nathan: Some marketers think you shouldn’t care about keywords in the online content you create. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that way too many times to ignore. I’m here to tell you that that mentality is a really big mistake. Your prospects use terms to find your content. Therefore, it makes sense to incorporate the words your prospects will recognize within the content you’re creating to help them find your business by the number one most used websites in the world, search engines.
Writing content for your prospects means helping your prospects find your content. Keywords are the most important promotional tool you can possibly use to help your content reach the largest number of prospects long after you publish it. That’s why we’re chatting with Julia McCoy today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast.
Julia is the CEO at Express Writers. She’s lead content projects that now rank for more than 11,000 keywords. Do I need to say anything else to make her sound like the most credible source on this topic? She’s an amazing writer, she’s developed an amazing company and she’s the huge thought leader in her industry. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. Now it’s time for me to shut up and for you to listen to one of the most brilliant minds I’ve had the chance of chatting with on this topic. Let’s check in with Julia.
Hey, Julia. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Julia: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Nathan: Yeah. I’m really excited about this conversation and actually just getting the chance to meet you. This has been great getting to know you. Tell me about Express Writers and what exactly it is that you do there.
Julia: Absolutely. I started Express Writers about six years ago. My journey into starting that business was really from a place of finding out what I love to do and then just making money out of it. Then assembling a team of people with me and taking over the web to create really great content.
I got halfway through nursing school. I was getting an RN degree. I realized that the way I am, I would prefer to write and be behind the scenes than to think on my feet. I really wouldn’t have made a good nurse. I decided halfway through getting that RN degree to drop out and figure out what I love to do and how to make money doing it.
I just taught myself freelance writing. I knew that I always loved to write. Express Writers was born. What we do today, six years later from that starting point, today we serve over 5,000 clients around the globe. We have 480 members on board. We have a variety of writers, specialists. We just create content. We write blogs, web pages, you name it. That’s what we do. It’s really cool that we can all do this for just a bunch of companies and serve them with really great content. I really love what we do.
Nathan: Yeah. I love that story, by the way. I have a similar background myself where you do something else and you find your passion in marketing. You ended up in the right spot, you’re writing. You guys have published tons of content that now ranks for I think it’s more than 11,000 keywords in Google alone. Obviously you’re writing some really great stuff. Give me a quick overview of the strategy there.
Julia: Yes, absolutely. Creating content for me came from a place of I really want to do for myself what we do for clients. I want to figure out how to make that our major way of marketing, our major channel of advertising. It worked. From the very beginning I was strategizing keywords. I was figuring out, “Okay. How do I get this content to do really well? Standout in the search results for this long tail keyword.”
We would target keywords that we knew our clients were searching for like illegal blog writers for example. We would write super long form in-depth content around that. I started that literally the day I launched my website. That was my strategy.
We stayed consistent at it. We published three to four pieces every single week, sometimes five. By now we have over 900, I think yeah, we just hit 1000 blog post mark literally two days ago. We have over 1000 blogs now on our site that have been built across the last six years. Through those blogs, that’s how we rank for more than 11,000 keywords by now.
My strategy was so simple. I think that staying consistent and then always having really high standards, that’s how we’ve been able to do 100% of our marketing through our content marketing.
Nathan: You mentioned standards. Can you give me a quick overview of what you mean by that? What are your high standards there?
Julia: Yes, great question. I think whenever I create content, I really draw inspiration-I’m going to give credit to Rand Fishkin and how he described the 10 times content standard. What that means is you want to create content that’s really 10 times better than anything out there on the topic. You have to start there when you create content. Sometimes that means that you have to rule topics out. If someone has already created 10 times content, why tackle it?
Whenever we create content, that’s what we try to do. How can we make this the best answer on the topic? Give a fresh perspective, something that comes from our internal expertise. Share that in this piece of content. That’s an overview of our standards.
Nathan: Yeah, I absolutely love that. That’s amazing.
Nathan: It obviously works because a ton of the content that you’ve published even years ago is still ranking now today. I was wondering Julia, is there a secret there? How do you help older content maintain that sort of ranking for those 11,000 terms?
Julia: That’s another great question. The content that we’ve created, I’ve actually been surprised myself how well it’s stuck in the rankings. I think that one reason that is so is because of the keywords that we’ve targeted have been super long tail. Sometimes five, six terms. Those keywords consistently do not get a lot of content created just for that long tail keyword. People are missing out on the opportunity and they’re targeting some other style of keyword or they’re not even researching keywords when they create content.
Whenever we create content, we look up these keywords. We really find that long tail that we know our clients are searching for. Then once we have that long tail, it’s not just about the keyword, it’s about creating content where that keyword is the topic. That’s really important. If you tell Google, “Hey this keyword, my piece is the topic for that keyword.” You can do that by plugging in that keyword in the H2, in the meta and then of course naturally throughout the content.
Whenever I started creating content I had to be really careful. If I was deviating from the topic, I noticed that that content didn’t rank. You can write a piece around a keyword but it’s not the topic, it’s not going to rank for that keyword. If that makes sense. That would have to be my secret is researching, putting the time to actually find the keywords. Then once you find them, it’s what you do with them. You have to create a topical piece around that keyword and make sure that that keyword is your focus, naturally of course.
Nathan: I love that. I think that’s awesome advice. Julia, the last time we talked, you mentioned that some of these longer tail or maybe low competition keywords are a big part of this. Why is targeting that low competition keyword important for you guys?
Julia: Yes, another great question. Low competition, it’s definitely one of the biggest pieces of my keyword research strategy. The competition numbers usually are from 1 to 100. That tells you how much competition is out there for the keyword. Usually the higher it is, anywhere from 60 to 100, it’s going to be really hard to rank for. That means there’s already content created around that keyword that is in the top 5, 6 organic spots in Google.
You really want to go for low competition. Tools are great because they tell you those exact numbers. Sometimes just to find one of our long tail keywords, I think I have spent up to 40 minutes sometimes just digging. Once you find, especially for me, if I find a number around 40 or less, sometimes we’ve seen content rank within weeks if we create content around that competition number. Low competition is huge. It’s definitely one of our secrets to success.
Nathan: Yeah. You’ve mentioned lower on the scale of 1 to 100. I was wondering how do you actually find those keywords? How do you use that scale? What tools might you use to find that?
Julia: Yes, definitely. I have two go-to tools. One of them is SEMrush. Then the other which I use quite a bit these days is Mangools. That tool was just created a few years back. It’s super user-friendly. If you type in a keyword, it automatically generates pretty much on one screen everything you need to know.
It gives you the top five pieces that are already ranking in Google. It gives you down on the right, it gives you your score. Then on the left, you can keep digging and scrolling for more keywords that have better numbers. That’s how I dig and I find those keywords. Sometimes you have to click through each keyword and then read the content that’s ranking. It definitely takes some work to study those keywords and then find the best fit.
What’s really cool about Mangools as well is that it tells you in layman’s terms what to expect from the number. It’ll say instead of just the number 50 for example, it’ll also say, “Possible.” You know at a glance okay this keyword is actually possible to create content and then rank for.
Nathan: Something that we talked about when you were talking about the 10 times content, which I love that framework, was that you look at competition once in awhile maybe. I was wondering in regards to these keywords, how do you make sure that you’re going to rank for that keyword despite the competition?
Julia: For me it’s pretty simple how I approach that. I just analyze the content that’s there. I look at it usually in two different ways. I look at the domain itself, how much authority does this domain have. For example like hubspot.com, moz.com, they’re going to have really high domain authority numbers. Especially if you’re a newer site, it’s going to be really hard to outrank a domain like that. That’s the first way you can look at it.
The second way is to look at the content itself. Sometimes even on a newer domain, if the content is really good and it’s a 10 times style like you see a lot of headers, you see a lot of points explained and it’s really well written, super thorough. You might want to stop and say, “You know, I can’t do better.”
It’s really important to look at those two things, the DA of the site, the domain authority. Then just how good is the actual content itself.
Nathan: I love that. We’ve talked a little bit about 10 times content. You’re mentioning the term good content. I think for a lot of people that’s a subjective assessment. I’m wondering, because you guys are creating amazing stuff at Express Writers, not only for your own what you guys are doing, but for your clients, how do you define good content at Express Writers?
Julia: I think that comes down to one, how engaging the writing actually is and then building onto that because these two things really go hand in hand, how thorough is the information you’re presenting. Those two things in theory, they sound so simple. But in practice they can be really hard. If you start studying low competition and keywords, you hit this lodge of Google. You look at a lot of crappy content. It’s amazing how much content is out there that’s ranking that really just doesn’t read well or it doesn’t even have more than 400 words on a super in-depth topic.
Going further than all of that and just having engaging writing, that’s number one. You have to write to be read. Number two, you have to be super thorough on the topic. It really comes down to what Rand Fishkin was saying, being 10 times better than anything out there for that topic.
Nathan: You’re learning a ton from Julia. I would love to hear your feedback on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Check us out on iTunes. Rate the podcast and leave a review. Then just let me know. I’ll hook you up with something sweet from your friends at CoSchedule. Just email me a screenshot of your review and your physical mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s as simple as that. Leave a review, give me your shipping address and let me know at email@example.com. I will give you something awesome. Let’s get back to my convo with Julia.
Let’s say we’re taking your advice. We’re thinking about all of that, engaging 10 times sort of content. How do you actually weave in the keywords into your good content? What does that process look like for you guys?
Julia: Yeah, definitely. I think that it starts with looking at your keywords first. I know there are some people that will look at the keywords last. But I think looking at your keywords first actually gives you a really good direction to start from. You know I have this keyword. I should make that my topic for this piece.
Once you know that that keyword has to be your topic, then you could really start focusing on how to create the best content for that keyword and for that topic. Weaving that keyword in becomes natural if you start from the place of okay this keyword is my topic and this is what I’m writing about and then of course optimizing the headline. All of those are really important to do to make sure that content is not just ranked but then clicked through and read. Then you could possibly get leads from that piece as well.
Nathan: Wow. I love that, Julia. Our CEO Garrett says this all the time that the simplest approach is often the best place to start.
Nathan: A framework like that is applied through exactly what you’re saying. I think it’s amazing advice.
Julia: Thanks. I love your CEO’s advice. That’s a great one liner.
Nathan: Julia, also the last time we chatted, you mentioned that you are working on helping your clients take advantage of geo specific keywords. I think that that is such an interesting thing for brick and mortar sorts of companies and marketers in specific locations. First off, tell me about that. What are geo specific keywords? What does that mean?
Julia: Yes, definitely. That would be the keywords that are attached to a location. For example if you’re looking up a flower shop, you might write florist and then your location. For me that would be florist in Austin, Texas. That would be a geo specific keyword. What’s great about those is that they are automatically long tail keywords and usually low competition.
If you go from florist to florist and your city, you can cut the competition right in half. Automatically you have a gold line of a keyword to start with. That’s why I love going after geo specific keywords because they’re so easy to create great content for.
Nathan: The process behind finding those geo specific keywords, is it the same as earlier or is there a different process there?
Julia: Yes, definitely. I use the same tool, Mangools or SEMrush. Then I start with typing in the keyword as well as the location. That would be the difference. You don’t just start with the broad stem. You actually add the location. Then base your research from there.
It does get a little tricky because if it’s a really unique location, even if it’s outside the U.S. for example, sometimes you’re not going to find monthly search traffic data. That can really turn off some people. We’ve heard our clients worry about that. But the thing is sometimes tools don’t pick up the actual traffic and what humans are doing. Because they’re just a tool there, a robot and an algorithm that’s predicting a number.
What really happens can be different. There can be real people searching for that term and if it’s really targeted. Even if it’s five people. Those five people find your content at the top of Google. They’re super targeted and they are ready to buy. It’s way better than going after a huge volume keyword where the people just aren’t ready to buy and they aren’t that targeted.
Nathan: Julia, also, just incorporating these geo specific keywords into our content, is that also the same process? Do I need to type in I’m a florist in Austin, Texas a few times into my content? How do you guys do that?
Julia: Yeah, definitely. That’s a good question. I was just studying this topic because the YouTube episode that I’m launching this weekend is actually about this very point. I was just researching this yesterday. It turns out Google really doesn’t judge a geo specific keyword by the order in which you write it. You can put that keyword in synonymously. You can break it up and then place the different terms in different sections of a sentence.
It’s really easy to weave that. You don’t have to write florist in Austin, Texas. Or like let’s say UX designer Austin. You don’t have to put those words in consecutively. You can actually weave them in and say, “How to find the best UX and web designer in Austin?” That sounds way more natural. Then Google automatically will pick that up for your long tail geo specific keyword.
You don’t have to think, “I have to use that in the order it is,” because once again we’re humans. The humans are using Google, not robots. They’re searching for content that sounds like something they want to read. That’s what you want to use. That’s how you want to use your keywords in that style, super naturally. Just have that as your role.
Nathan: I’m going to circle back to something that you mentioned earlier. We’re talking a little bit about those 400 bird blog posts that are just not really engaging at all. Something that we talked about the last time we chatted was that in order to rank for keywords, we need good content but also that link seems to matter quite a bit. Fill me in on what you’ve found out there.
Julia: Yes, absolutely. Great, great question. There’s been proven studies on this. It’s not just me saying this number. But there was a couple big publications, HubSpot and then Serve IQ. They studied tens of thousands of content pieces. The pieces that surfaced to the top, we’re talking about the top 5 results in Google as well as the top shares, the most amount of shares across all this content was consistently at 2200, 2000 words, sometimes way higher than that but the minimum bar was always around 2200.
That long form content just consistently seems to rise above the rest when these studies are done. Personally, I have applied that rule to my content. I really don’t publish a blog unless it’s at that 2000 word mark if it’s an informative topic. You want to use some judgment there if you’re writing a case study or a story about your team. You don’t have to go to that in-depth because you might not need to rank that piece.
If this is a topic that you want to see rank in Google, you really have to think long form because it’s been proven. That’s what works. It’s not just a number that consistently surfaces to the top in Google. I’ve seen that over and over. Whenever we target long tail keywords, we always go for a minimum of 2000 words. That’s when we see that content rank sometimes within 30 days. It’s sitting there in the top 2 or 3 of Google. That was a great question.
Nathan: I love that too because if anyone knows CoSchedule’s blog content, we follow the same advice. We know that it works too. You guys have more than 1000 blog posts that are doing this. You’re ranking for 11,000 keywords. That’s huge.
Something maybe not so related but I have a feeling that you guys have a lot of other cool things going on at Express Writers on top of this blog content. What’s the big project that you’ve launched recently?
Julia: Yes, absolutely. You’re right, on top of everything we’re doing, we are doing more. What we did this year, what I did was I decided to take all of this knowledge that I’ve learned across the last six years. A lot of it’s been through trial and error, just figuring things out with content, all the way from creation cycle to promotion, to building which platforms to publish on, on and on. All those things I’ve been figuring out the last six years.
This year I finally decided to put five months into creating a course. That course just launched the first week of September. That’s a new project that we’re doing that I’m really excited about. What’s cool is it kind of answers some of the questions our clients have that can’t be answered with written content. Because strategy is so important, it’s a missing part of the majority of content marketers and what they do. You really have to know your strategy; what you’re doing with your content, what you want to see from your content.
That’s what I tried to do with this course that just launched. We were able to grab the domain for it which I was really excited about, contentstrategycourse.com.
Nathan: That is an awesome domain. I love it.
Julia: Isn’t it?
Nathan: It’s really good. Julia, part of that course is that you mentioned you’re giving away all of your advices, the things you’ve learned. I think some marketers are hesitant about giving away too much of their advice and knowledge thinking that they should keep more of that internal, like we shouldn’t be sharing all that stuff. I want to hear your take on that. Why are you sharing so much?
Julia: Yes, really good question. Across the last six years, I’ve built different communities. One of them is a Twitter chat. In these communities, I’m really quick to just share off the bat if there’s any question that’s in my way. I’m really quick to answer it the best way I can. It definitely is giving away knowledge for free.
I think that this all comes back to you, especially when you’re a content marketer, this is the industry, to be giving away your knowledge for free if there ever was one. It comes back to you especially with this course, this launch. So many people just came in organically without a massive sales funnel, etc. All of the advertising stuff that you might need if you weren’t in the industry giving away your knowledge for free.
That is automatically an organic path that people follow. Whenever you’re out there in the industry, sharing what you know and just giving fresh insights that work and you’re giving that away. People follow that and the know, like, and trust factor happens really fast. I’ve seen that with our course students, people that found my book and then found our Twitter chat. They were like, “Okay. Now I have to take the course.” It was a really natural progression without sinking a lot of money into advertising.
I think that if you’re in content marketing and you give away your knowledge for free, the important thing to remember is it may not return as a sale within a week or even a couple months. But down the road, if you’re at the foremost of people’s minds when they think of that question they asked you, they’re going to come back to you. You might see this return inside a year or two years, sometimes three years. It might take that long. But that’s true for almost anything in content marketing as well.
Nathan: Julia, just one more question. Let’s wrap this up. You’ve given us so much amazing advice today. If I were a marketer wanting to implement what you were just talking about, where should I start? Where should I focus first?
Julia: That is a great question. I think the pitfall there when people are starting out is they take on too much and then focus really gets diluted. You have to remember when you’re starting out, my single strategy really was to research those keywords and then consistently, like three times a week, publish really good long form content.
You know what, that is sometimes more than a full-time job as I’m sure you know. Focusing on that can take up all of your time. But if you make that your main focus, it’s kind of like the phrase, I think it goes jack of all trades, master of none. That really applies to content marketing. If you focus on one strategy and one path that will get you return and leads down the road, you’re going to be really happy that you stuck to that.
Consistency is just key. Whenever you start, give your audience something to look forward to. Keep doing it. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results the next day. This all could return in a few months.
Nathan: Yeah. Julia, I think that’s awesome advice and a perfect place to end this. I want to say thanks so much for sharing everything that you’ve learned for building up those rankings, for publishing tons of not just content but really good content and why we should be sharing a lot of our advice and not public holding. Thank you so much.
Julia: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on.
Nathan: I don’t know about you but I love Julia’s definition of good content. What a subjective term, right? But she’s absolutely figured it out for her crew at Express Writers. Create 10x content, that’s content that’s 10 times better than anything else. It’s more engaging, it’s longer form, it’s optimized so your prospects will find it when they need it most. Thanks, Julia, for sharing all of this amazing advice on the Actionable Marketing Podcast.
You just heard from Julia McCoy. She’s the CEO at Express Writers. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out Julia’s show notes and full transcript at coschedule.com/podcast.
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Alright friends, I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. I will catch you on the next episode.